September 1941 – May 1942
Immediately after the signing of The Treaty of Moscow, Galicia was annexed to the Greater Reich and Nazi occupied Russia was separated into four Reichskommissariats: Ostland under Heinrich Lohse, Ukraine under Eric Koch, Kaukasus under Herbert Backe, and Moskau under Wilhelm Kube.
Russian POWs were put to work demolishing Leningrad and Moscow, the latter to be transformed into an artificial lake, as well as restoring damaged infrastructure, as per the terms of the Treaty of Moscow. Hitler readily used this clause in the peace treaty, the use of Soviet prisoners to restore wrecked infrastructure, to put off returning these captured soldiers to Vlasov who were worked to death. The results of destroying Leningrad and Moscow led to the expulsion of 5 million people from their homes during the harshest Russian winter in decades. Many died of the elements as they sought shelter or attempted to cross the Urals.
Meanwhile, Himmler’s Race and Settlement Head Office took solid control, determining the fates of tens of millions of individuals in the occupied East. Roughly 90 million were considered “untermenschen” and non-essential, slated either for outright extermination or expulsion to the East. 30 million were slated to be kept either as slave laborers or to be Germanized and absorbed into the Reich. In order to speed up the deaths or migration of these unwanted souls, a Hunger Strategy was adopted, stripping food stuffs from the region to either be used by the occupying German Army or to be sent back to the Reich. These determinations were to result, within a twenty year time line, in the removing of all unwanted Slavic strains and placing the country fully under German control. Between 10 and 20 % of the Russian population died due to this strategy that winter.
The Ukraine was opened to massive German settlement in order to exploit its rich soil and mineral deposits. It was also the site of the first great atrocities carried out against the native population, which was transformed into slave labor to harvest the crops among other duties.
Roughly 15-20 million would die by the end of the harsh Winter 1941-2.
Exploitation of Africa
With the British surrender came a great deal of African territory to the Reich, rich with potential which Heydrich and Himmler had seen plain as day. These new territories were a gold mine with enough slave labor to make the SS rich beyond their wildest dreams. Under the guise of instilling order in the Reich’s new lands, Himmler quickly enforced his rights to the Dark Continent.
Starting in January 1941, Himmler appointed Heydrich in charge of a commission to lay out SS action in Africa: political, military, and commercial. What Heydrich came up with was ingenious. The SS would create a fully functioning helot state funded by the material wealth of the colonies. Heydrich would set forward a program establishing mines, camps, a transportation infrastructure, and more.
The indigenous population would not reap the benefits of Heydrich’s program. Belgian and French colonists were lucky enough to keep possession of certain properties in the wake of their new superiors. The Kongo, Luba, Mongo, and other native tribesmen, meanwhile, saw their numbers decimated as they were literally worked to death. SS doctors would seize upon those laborers deemed unfit to work and perform numerous experiments on them including sterilization, medical training, weapons research, and more. Many SS men became infamous for keeping the skulls of native Africans as trophies.
By the end of 1941, an impressive amount of progress had been achieved with 10 % of the indigenous population killed by the effort.
A meeting of senior officials of the Nazi German regime was held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on 20 January 1942.
Heydrich opened the conference with an account of the anti-Jewish measures taken in Germany since the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. He said that between 1933 and 1941, 530,000 German and Austrian Jews had emigrated. This information was taken from a briefing paper prepared for him the previous week by Eichmann who, after his experience in organizing the forced emigration of the Viennese Jews in 1938, had become the leading expert on the practicalities of solving the “Jewish question.”
Heydrich reported that there were approximately eleven million Jews in the whole of Europe. He explained that since further emigration of European Jews had been prohibited by the authorities, “another possible solution of the problem has now taken the place of emigration, i.e. the evacuation of the Jews to the East”; this would be a “provisional” solution, but “practical experience” was already being collected for the “future final solution of the Jewish question”.
Heydrich made the ultimate fate intended for the evacuees clear:
“Under proper guidance, in the course of the final solution the Jews are to be allocated for appropriate labor in the East. Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes. The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as the seed of a new Jewish revival”.
Heydrich went on to say that in the course of the “practical execution of the final solution”, Europe would be “combed through from west to east. “The “evacuated” Jews, he said, would first be sent to “transit ghettos” in the General Government, from which they would be transported to the East. Heydrich said that to avoid legal and political difficulties, it was important to define who was a Jew for the purposes of “evacuation.” He outlined categories of people who would be exempted. Jews over 65 years old, and Jewish Great War veterans alike, who had been severely wounded or who had won the Iron Cross, would be sent to the “model” concentration camp at Theresienstadt. “With this expedient solution,” he said, “in one fell swoop many interventions will be prevented.”
The situation of people who were in a “racial” sense half or quarter Jews, and of Jews who were married to non-Jews, was more complex. Under the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, their status had been left deliberately ambiguous. Heydrich announced that “mischlings” (a Nazi pejorative for mixed-“race” persons) of the first degree (persons with two Jewish grandparents), would be treated as Jews. This would not apply if they were married to a non-Jew and had children by that marriage. It would also not apply if they had been granted written exemption by “the highest offices of the Party and State.” Such persons would instead be sterilized.
“Mischlings of the second degree” (persons with one Jewish grandparent) would be treated as Germans unless they were married to Jews or mischlings of the first degree, or had a “racially especially undesirable appearance that marks him outwardly as a Jew”, or had a “political record that shows that he feels and behaves like a Jew”. Persons in these latter categories would be deported even if married to non-Jews.
In the case of mixed marriages, Heydrich advocated a policy of caution, “with regard to the effects on the German relatives”. If such a marriage had produced children who were being raised as Germans, the Jewish partner would not be deported. If they were being raised as Jews, they might be deported, or sent to Theresienstadt, depending on the circumstances.
It is important to note that these exemptions applied only to German and Austrian Jews (and were not always observed even in regard to them). In most of the occupied countries, Jews were rounded up and deported en masse, and anyone who lived in or identified with the Jewish community in a given place was regarded as a Jew. One of the few exceptions to this was France, where the French regime, in exchange for ready co-operation, was able to apply its own rules, affecting mainly refugees and recent immigrants rather than French-born Jews. Heydrich commented: “In France, the registration of Jews for evacuation will in all probability proceed without great difficulty”, but in fact the great majority of French-born Jews survived. In Denmark, relatively few Jews were ultimately exterminated, due to strong opposition by the King and the populace.
More difficulty was anticipated with Germany’s allies, Romania and Hungary. “In Romania the government has [now] appointed a commissioner for Jewish affairs”, Heydrich said, but in fact the deportation of Romanian Jews was slow and inefficient despite the high degree of popular anti-Semitism. “In order to settle the question in Hungary,” Heydrich said, “it will soon be necessary to force an adviser for Jewish questions onto the Hungarian government”. The Hungarian regime of Miklós Horthy continued to resist German interference in its Jewish policy until 1944, when Horthy was overthrown (by Nazi intervention) and 500,000 Hungarian Jews sent to their deaths by Eichmann.
Heydrich spoke for nearly an hour. Then followed about thirty minutes of questions and comments, followed by some less formal conversation. Luther from the Foreign Office urged caution in Scandinavia, “Nordic” countries where public opinion was not hostile to the small Jewish populations and would react badly to unpleasant scenes. Hofmann and Stuckart pointed out the legalistic and administrative difficulties over mixed marriages, arguing for compulsory dissolution of marriages to prevent legal disputes and for the wider use of sterilization as an alternative to deportation. Neumann from the Four Year Plan argued for the exemption of Jews who were working in industries vital to the war effort and for whom no replacements are available. Heydrich (keen not to offend Neumann’s boss Hermann Göring) assured him that these Jews would not be “evacuated”. There were questions about the mischlings and those in mixed marriages: the details of these complex questions were put off until a later meeting.
Finally Bühler of the General Government in occupied Poland stated that:
“the General Government would welcome it if the final solution of this problem could be begun in the General Government, since on the one hand transportation does not play such a large role here nor would problems of labor supply hamper this action. Jews must be removed from the territory of the General Government as quickly as possible, since it is especially here that the Jew as an epidemic carrier represents an extreme danger and on the other hand he is causing permanent chaos in the economic structure of the country through continued black market dealings.”
Hitler had admitted to various members of his entourage that the peace achieved between Vlasov’s Russia and Germany was only a temporary measure in order to give Germany breathing room to rest and resupply German forces in preparation for the final drive on Siberia.
In November 1941, German and Japanese officials met to determine a joint strategy to seal the fate of the rump Russian state as well as to determine the final boundaries of one another’s sphere of influence in Asia. What arose was Operation Orient, a joint military campaign that would divide Asia between the two powers. According to the plan, Siberia would be jointly assaulted by both parties with the Yenisei River serving as the demarcation line between them. This line continued south with the western border of China as well as the eastern border of India serving as the boundary of one another’s territory. As a means to compensate Japan for placing India with Germany’s sphere, Ceylon would be placed within the Japanese sphere of influence.
It was decided that both powers would act jointly on May 1, 1942.
This joint strategy was nearly ruined when President Roosevelt enacted an oil embargo on Japan in late 1941. Hitler’s intervention, promising shipments of oil from Iraq and the Caucasus to make up the difference, were what prevented the entire operation from falling apart.
The Wehrmacht becomes Multinational
In order to find the troops needed for the future campaigns of the Reich, Hitler ordered the ranks opened to Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, and those dubbed “Aryan” from Poland, the Baltic, Ukraine, and Russia. This was also instituted as a means to draw these lands closer to the Reich in preparation for their annexation.
Though many thought this would lead to minimal gains, the German High Command was surprised by the sheer number of men who stepped forward to join the Wehrmacht.
South African Independence
With covert German aid and growing local pressure, an early election was called in South Africa in January 1942 resulting in DF Malan’s Reunited National Party and its coalition partner, the Afrikaner Party, winning a majority. Jan Smut’s forces were savaged at the polls, PM Smuts himself even losing his own seat in Parliament.
Many pointed to Malan’s platform for this momentous victory calling for a realignment from the United Kingdom to Hitler’s Germany. He stated he would fight to transform South Africa into a republic free of Britain’s “pathetic” commonwealth. Malan likewise planned to ratify a system of segregation, possible sterilization of blacks and coloureds, the banning of black trade unions, and an end to mixed marriages.
At the victory celebration held at National Party HQ, Malan was quoted:
“We will not allow the kaffirs to dilute our Boer blood or return us to those days of savagery before our ancestors landed here. This land, this country, this nation was built by our people, the Dutch, through blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We will not give one acre to the kaffirs nor bow down to the oppressive will of the British. This is our time.”
Preparations for Operation Orient
Operation Orient would prove the largest military operation in German history. It consisted of five Army Groups, two assigned to the conquest of Siberia and three to the conquest of India. Hitler gradually inserted four Army Groups into the recently independent Central Asian republics(two in Kazakhstan, one in Uzbekistan, and one in Tajikistan), these republics granting consent for German military occupation due to fears of Vlasov’s future attempts to reconquer them. Though Vlasov noticed these troop movements, he did not wish to antagonize Germany as his grip on power was still tenuous. The final Army Group was being positioned in Iraq for an eastern strike, made possible by a secret agreement with Iran to allow German soldiers through their kingdom on their drive into India.
India was considered to be an easy target as Indian soldiers were considered sub-standard as well as because India was wracked by an ongoing war within its borders between multiple factions as well as British soldiers attempting to keep India within the Empire.